Liz jumped slightly, jerked out of her thoughts, and turned to look at who was addressing her. She found herself looking up at Derek, whom she hadn’t ever seen outside of Children of the Rose functions. Ever. And yet, here he was, standing on the sidewalk, staring down at where she was sitting on the grass under a tree.
For a moment, she couldn’t think of what to say. She hadn’t often found herself speechless around guys, but for some reason she found herself unable to think clearly when Derek was around.
Liz shrugged and stood up, dusting off her long skirt. “Thinking. I went for a walk to think and…stopped here…” She looked around. They were relatively close to the colony, just a block or so away, and she was pretty sure she’d heard that Derek lived on the other side of town. “What are you doing here?”
Now it was Derek’s turn to shrug. He looked back in the direction of the colony for a moment before he turned to look at Liz again. “I had a meeting with Pastor Simon and a couple others. I’ve been…meeting with some people at the colony…a lot lately. And then I decided to walk for a bit before heading home.”
“Oh.” Liz didn’t know what else to say. There was something in Derek’s voice that made her think that more was going on than he was telling her, but she didn’t want to pry. She barely knew him, after all.
“What were you thinking about?”
“Um…college? Sandra and Delia and my sister…they really want me to go to Drighton, if I decide to go to college…because there’s a colony up there. But I hadn’t ever really thought of going there before.”
Derek furrowed his eyebrows and stared at her, his expression unreadable. For a moment, they stood there in silence—Derek studying Liz, and Liz unsure of what to do or say—and finally Derek took a deep breath, as though stealing himself to say something uncomfortable.
“Why did you join the Children, Liz?”
Liz raised her eyebrows. It wasn’t lost on her that Derek kept calling her Liz rather than Elizabeth, but for some reason it was more apparent now that he was wanting to talk about their church. It was strange. He was the only one who called her Liz.
“My sister brought me. She encouraged me to. And…I like the people there. They make me feel special.”
Derek’s eyebrows contracted again. “So you stick around to feel special?”
“I stick around because…I don’t know. They’re good people. And…I just like it there. They’re good people.”
Derek nodded slowly, like he didn’t quite believe her. “You should make your own decision about college. You should make your own decisions, period. But…if the Children are really where you want to be…”
He trailed off and shook his head.
“What?” Liz asked, getting frustrated. “What is it?”
“It’s okay to have a mind of your own, you know. If Drighton is really where you want to go…then go there. But you shouldn’t make your decision based on a few people’s opinions, particularly ones you’ve only known for a couple of months.”
Liz shook her head, all of her conviction gone. “But…they’re good people. They have my best interests at heart.”
“Do they?” Derek gave Liz a small smile and then turned back in the direction of the colony. “Anyway, I have to go. My ride’s probably waiting for me. Good luck, Liz…whatever decision you come to.”
Liz watched him walk away, unsure of what to do and more confused than she’d been in a while.
Liz wakes up with a sudden sharp pain in her side and a crick in her neck. And then another sudden pain. It takes her a few seconds to put it together, but by the third sudden pain in her side, she realizes she’s being poked in the ribs by sharp, little fingers. Before she opens her eyes to confirm this, however, she hears the tiny voices of her nieces, nephews, and daughter.
“Why are Aunt Jackie and Aunt Liz sleeping down here?” Kyle, Greg’s six-year-old, asks. He doesn’t try to keep his voice down.
“They fell asleep,” Sara mutters.
“We know that, Sara,” Angela, Jackie’s five-year-old, sighs.
Another sharp jab in the ribs. “Mommy?” Sara asks quietly.
Liz sits up and rubs her eyes, feeling vaguely nauseous. Morning sickness will do that to you. “What’s wrong, kids?”
“Why did you sleep down here?” Kyle practically shouts. Liz makes a mental note to talk to Greg about teaching his son the wonders of an inside voice.
“We fell asleep while watching TV. No big deal. Go get some breakfast.”
The kids race each other out of the room, following the smells of omelets and cinnamon rolls. Liz elbows Jackie in the shoulder, who snaps awake and glares.
“Ow!” she says pointedly.
There’s a cough behind their heads. Both women turn around to see all five of their siblings standing there, staring.
“What?” Jackie asks, rubbing her shoulder and still glaring at Liz.
“You two slept on the couch?” Tom asks.
“So what?” Liz says, standing and folding the blanket. “We fell asleep watching TV. It’s not like you’ve never done that before.”
“I know you two are in the midst of some traumatic something-or-other right now,” Eva says, waving her hand dismissively, “but you’re both acting weird. Even for you. And you two have a lengthy history of acting very weird.”
“Oh, yes. Thank you so much for the support, Eva.”
Jackie grabs Liz’s arm, trying to keep her calm. To the other five she says, “It’s really not a big deal. We’re fine. Okay?”
Liz turns and glares at Jackie, jerking her arm out of her older sister’s hand. “Yeah, we’re fine. But I’m also tired and nervous and scared to death. And I don’t need Evalynne’s sarcasm right now and neither do you.”
It’s like Liz has just said a terrible word or threatened death. The silence is complete and terrified. All six of her siblings stare at her with their mouths hanging open. Someone screams in the kitchen, an argument between the kids ensues, but still none of the seven McLancy siblings move.
Finally, Eva whispers, “What did you call me?”
Liz turns to look at her younger sister. Eva’s eyebrows are furled and she looks genuinely concerned, an emotion she doesn’t openly express often.
“I called you…I called you Eva.”
Eva shakes her head slowly. “No, you didn’t. You called me Evalynne. You haven’t called me Evalynne since…” Her voice trails off into nothing.
The argument in the kitchen intensifies. Adults, Jackie’s husband and Greg’s wife by the sounds of it, get involved. One of the kids isn’t happy with his omelet. Another kid thinks someone is hogging the cinnamon rolls. The rest of the argument is unintelligible, but it’s the only noise in the house.
“We’re fine,” Liz finally repeats, almost a whisper. “We’ve been fine for the last ten years and that’s not going to change just because we’re back in this town.”
Still the staring continues. Unable to take it anymore, Liz excuses herself. She decides to help sort out the war going on in the kitchen, leaving her brothers and sisters to their frightened staring.At least a little kid battle over breakfast foods is something easily solved.